EP 181 – WHEN CHURCH CONFLICT HAPPENS
Hey Boot Campers we’re back in action but this time, with another Bob, the Lead Missional Strategist of First Coast Churches, Bob Bumgarner.
In this EP Jimbo and Bob get down to the important work of discussing how to deal with Church conflict. They recommend a great book-When Church Conflict Happens. Here are some of the great highlights.
- When conflict happens – you are not a failure.
- Conflict always presents opportunities for new thinking, responses, and breakthrough.
- There are three facets or types of conflict
- Unhealthy – when conflict goes unrecognized
- Benign – when church disagreements occur because of oversight
- Healthy – a disagreement that is spotted and responded to in a biblical manner
According to Hare, there are are five levels of conflict. Knowing them will help you navigate conflict in a way that can lead to productive healthy progress.
- Personal – conflict occurring inside of me personally
- Interpersonal – conflict occurring between two people
- Intragroup – conflict that occurs within a group of people
- Intergroup – conflict occurring between different groups
- Structural – something within the organization that creates conflict
Check out the rest of this EP for more great info and helpful tips on dealing with conflict and a coming EP Crucial Conversations.
Don’t let the inner conflict of having a less than great website get you down. Contact our great sponsor, One Eighty Digital and leverage their know how to help your church impact the community by accurately telling your church’s story.
JimBo Stewart: [00:00:00] Alright, here we are back at the bootcamp. Bob, I hope you’re ready for the next episode. And listeners, I hope you’re ready for a different Bob. normally when I say, Bob, I hope you’re ready for the next episode. That would indicate I’m talking to the illustrious, the beautiful. Butterflies kisses singing Bob Bickford, but he was not able to jump in on this call because he had some good family stuff going on and he had to dip away.
But we decided to push ahead and we brought another Bob, in his place for today. I’m not cheating on you Bickford. It’s just the other Bob in my life. Bob Bumgarner.
Bob Bumgarner: Hey, I, it’s good to be here. I’m sorry to miss Bob, number one, but I’m glad to be, I feel weird saying Bob number two. But anyway, the second Bob.
JimBo Stewart: It’s always good to have you on here. our listeners love having you. We love having you on here. You always have great wisdom, so, grateful to have you Again, I think this is what the, I dunno, this is what the third or fourth time we’ve had you
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah. At least third. Yep.
JimBo Stewart: I remember, I think the first time we were [00:01:00] it, we had just talked, for some reason we were talking about burnt ends and how Bob Bickford and I had just gotten back from Kansas City and for whatever reason we went to a restaurant that had, sausage burnt ends.
And I couldn’t, for the life of me figure out how that could be a real thing.
Bob Bumgarner: Well you, until you’ve tasted them, you don’t know
JimBo Stewart: Well, good man. I’m glad to have you on here. We’re gonna talk about a topic that comes up often when, I know for me, as I have talked to pastors a across the country and in our great city, the bold city of Jacksonville, and on the first coast, I’m sure you’ve encountered multiple. conversations that have brought this idea of conflict up anytime we’re leading change, anytime we’re leading a church, especially in a revitalization or a replant.
Where we’re really changing the direction of the church, it’s inevitable that church conflict is gonna happen. And so you’ve turned me onto a book that, I love the title when church Conflict Happens because it, it insinuates that. It’s not an if,[00:02:00] or it might happen, but it’s gonna happen. church conflict.
Just real quick, introduce the book to us.
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah. Michael Hare is somebody that, that I became introduced to when there was a church in town that was actually hiring him to come in and. and do some consultation with them. It’s a church that I respect, a very biblical church, and they brought him in and I had the opportunity to do lunch with him and just really appreciated some of the insight and the attitude he had.
I mean, one of the things that I think is super important is, that he brings out is that conflict does not mean failure. I mean, so you’re gonna. . And so you gotta get your mind out of the fact that I have failed if I’m experiencing conflict. So that’s just one of the good, the gold nuggets that was in there that led me to actually want to, kind of drill down and see what he had to say.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. Drilling down, he said he talked about the opportunity of conflict. What is, what does he mean when he says the opportunity of conflict?
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah, so one of the interesting things about conflict is that conflict actually kind of unfreezes our thinking, and [00:03:00] we are actually, when we’re in the middle of conflict, we’re actually willing to consider. Options or changes that we haven’t been, willing to consider. And that is if we, again, don’t see conflict as failure, but just as something that once worked, no longer worked, or two opinions trying to share the same space, whatever the problem is.
conflict handled correctly can actually be an opportunity for movement getting unstuck and actually break.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. I’ve experienced, I. on a spectrum, the way that we have dealt with conflict, wrongly based a little bit off of our personalities and our wiring, but I think there are some people that are so direct, that they, they kind of speak the truth without love. And, they may say the right thing and they just hammer in and, just expect you to course correct because they told you the truth.
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah.
JimBo Stewart: And then on the other side, I, I’ve experienced people who are so kind and tenderhearted that, out. A motivation to love. Well, they end up so [00:04:00] indirectly addressing everything and sugarcoating it, that they end up not actually telling the truth fully because there’s so much love. And I think about, you know, in Ephesians when it tells us to speak the truth in love, how does, how does Michael address those, those personality swings, dynamics, or.
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah, he does. I mean, basically what he says is anytime that we take something that the Bible puts together and try to separate it, we’re gonna mess up. So it’s share the truth in love. You can’t just share truth. You can’t just share love. It has to, they hold each other intention. I, I think it was him that talked about, and if it wasn’t, it still, it.
Underlying in there, but talked about truth and love, like being a smoothie. Like when you, when you drink a smoothie, you don’t, like, if it’s a banana strawberry smoothie, there’s just this new flavor, , you know, but you taste both, but they’re not distinct. So truth and love is the same way. and being able to, Really understand, your bias.
Understand that you, you were born with or socialized [00:05:00] toward a particular bias. I’m a high D or ID in the disc. And so for me, I actually feel comfortable disrupting things. Well, that’s, the majority of the Christian world is not like that. So I have to actually manage myself well and start with things like empathy and those kind of things in order for me to be able to share the truth.
JimBo Stewart: One of the other things he says is, uh, he talked about the three facets of conflict. What does he, what are the three facets? What does he mean by.
Bob Bumgarner: what he, he says there’s really three kinds of conflicts or three facets. There’s unhealthy conflict, there’s benign conflict, and then there’s healthy conflict. So unhealthy conflict means that something, a problem goes unrecognized until factions in the church. Begin to develop. And so sometimes Jimbo, to your point, it.
It goes unrecognized because we don’t wanna see it. And, so our personality can make it to where we either engage too fast without hearing all the facts, or we engage too slow letting. Things fester to where even factions can conform. benign conflict, on the other [00:06:00] hand is when, church conflict, when churches agreements, occur because of organizational oversights.
And we’re gonna talk a little bit more about that. But in other words, it wasn’t the result of two people, fussing about a particular thing, but something. Sort of unintentional and a gap that nobody actually noticed. And then of course, healthy conflict is a, is a disagreement that are spotted and then they’re responded to in love and in truth, and honoring, trying to honor both sides of the equation as much as, uh, as possible in a biblically constructive manner.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. A couple years ago we had, Tony Marita on to talk about his book, Conflict management. And I told you one of my favorite conflict management stories, and it’s been enough years. I think I can bring it up again, but it just still cracks me up. I call it the War of the Peace lilies. And when, when I first arrived at, uh, the Church of the Lord allowed me to be a part of replanting, they had a longstanding tradition of every time there was a funeral.
Of someone in the church, [00:07:00] they would gift, the church would gift that family a Peace Lilly. well, Bob, a Peace Lilly’s not a small plant, it’s a
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah.
JimBo Stewart: Plant
Bob Bumgarner: Yes,
JimBo Stewart: and the, the tradition ended up over time becoming that the family would then donate the Peace Lilly back to the church in honor of their loved one.
So now Peace Lilly is sentimentally attached to a dying per, someone that died that they love. And it ends up on the platform on the stage. And over time, this church had a lot of people die. . And so when I showed up, it was like a wild safari rainforest on the I. I had the clear room just to walk up on the platform and that was fine.
I was gonna deal with that. But the first conflict I had to manage was two ladies in our church. Scheduled a meeting to come to my office for me to mediate their conflict because one had passed off the responsibility of caring for the [00:08:00] myriad of peace lilies we had on the stage and was not pleased with how the new lady was managing the care for these peace lilies.
And I, I remember sitting in my. As I really thought, oh, this is gonna lead to what is really the disagreement and, you know, surely we’re not actually having a conflict mediation meeting over peace lilies of all things. And, but we were, we were having this meeting and it was, and I could not get. Either lady to see each other’s perspective at all.
And so their resolution to that meeting was, well, Jimbo, you will now from now on water, the piece Lil’s. And I said, no, that’s not gonna be the resolution out of here. We’re gonna have, if you, if you put that on me, they’re not gonna get watered. And sure enough, they didn’t get cared for. Well, I didn’t know what to do because each piece of Lilly is now attached to a loved member that has passed.
So another lady, a very direct person in our church, I show up to, told me I’m gonna handle this one day. [00:09:00] And I just said, okay, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do about this. But they were dying. So I show up to Sunday morning church one day, early in the morning, and they’re all gone. Every one of them.
Is gone. And I immediately knew who handled it. And so I just said, I hope you’ve not gotten me fired. and sure enough, it was, it was a big deal, and one lady wouldn’t talk to another lady for a long time. So, I mean, I, I don’t know which tier you had put that in, healthy, benign, or unhealthy, but it was, it was surprisingly robust of a
Bob Bumgarner: Well, I always wondered where Disney got their idea for Rainforest Cafe and I now I know it was from your church stage.
JimBo Stewart: Well, at the core of the book is, is about what he calls the levels of conflict dynamics. What help, help us understand what’s most helpful about understanding the levels of dynamics.
Bob Bumgarner: Okay, so when you think about, the levels of dynamics, really there are [00:10:00]always, what are presenting issues. That’s kind of the visible symptom of the conflict. But then there are the core i, the, the root cause. So think of it, there’s the visible symptom and the root cause and what you have to do.
is you have to shift from the presenting the visible symptom to the root cause, or you’ll find yourself solving the problem over and over and over again cuz you’re just addressing the symptoms. And so what he does, he did in his five levels, he’s got these kind of concentric circles, if you will. What he did is he gave us a tool from, to move from reacting to responding by shifting gears.
And there are, he identifies five levels through his research. One is what he calls the in. Personal level. So that’s the le that’s what’s going on inside of me. Then the interpersonal level is between two people, and then there’s the intragroup level where it’s, you know, with, there’s a conflict within a group within the deacons or within the Peace Lilly [00:11:00] committee,
And then there’s the intergroup level, which is between the, the deacons and the elders, if you will. And then there’s the structural level. So the first thing he. Is he kind of, gave us a way to do. Post-mortem, I guess, or a pre-mortem, if you will, on the conflict. So we can know if it’s something that’s just going on inside of me, or if it’s something between groups and when, you know, the level of dynamics, there’s actually a strategy for engaging each one of those.
And the thing I like about the book, . Well, I like a lot of things about the book, but the first half of the book is kind of the philosophy and the second half of the book is the field manual. And so it’ll actually will tell you how to, mine out some of those kind of things in the Field man manual at the back of the book.
But the gold, the book is built around these, these five levels of conflict and, and the idea of how to separate presenting issues from the root causes.
JimBo Stewart: So let’s take the piece Lilly example. How could I take those levels of dynamics and use [00:12:00] some things out of the field manual and dive deeper into that conversation with those ladies or whoever else I would need to involve in that to to start identifying some of those levels and moving forward towards peaceful progress.
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah, that’s a great, it’s a great question. What I would, say is you could have started by listening empathetically to the ladies, which I’m sure I am sure you did. listen, empathetically to the ladies. Talk to them about how you, how important it is that we remember people who have made significant contributions to our church and then, actually help them to see that.
it’s that you’re not against those memories of those people. but just there’s no more room to stand on the stage. And so you could ask the question. So, help me to solve this problem if we want to. solve this. how can we do it? one of the things to think about is sometimes it’s not either or Sometimes the symptom [00:13:00] is either we keep the lilies or we hate the people that, used to be here.
But if you as the person, as the pastor involved in this conflict, could say, Hey, how can we do this? How can we, honor the people that ha and the families that have given these peace lilies? and at the same time, not have a jungle in our auditorium. Sometimes just by posing that question, the both, and it allows them to, to expand their thinking.
and one of the things that the level can do what was trying to happen is they were trying to set up an interpersonal conflict with the pastor . Like they didn’t know that, but they were making. That you were either wrong and they were right, or they were wrong, and you were right. And so just by being able to think in those levels, it kind of gives you the confidence to know, that you’re tracking in a way that will ultimately get to some kind of resolution of the conflict.
JimBo Stewart: Hmm. [00:14:00] So I think conflict’s so hard to deal with and so many pastors and Christian leaders really don’t like to deal with conflict very well. so one of the things he says is that churches get better at walking through conflict when they demystify it. Talk to us about what does that mean to demystify conflict in the.
Bob Bumgarner: Okay. okay, so first of all, Oh, one of the things that I think is, well, the first step and his levels really help with this, is that he found that 90% of the time, now I get that that’s a big number. 90% of the time, the underlying or root cause of a conflict was at the organizational or structural level.
So that means that if, two people are fighting in a church, If you dig deep, 90 per nine out of 10 times, what you’re gonna find is what the church has caused the, their organizational structure has caused the conflict. Like there’s something that’s not been [00:15:00] stated in the, that makes the people be at conflict with each other.
In other words, it’s not truly interpersonal. They’re fighting because the children’s ministry wants space that the student ministry thought they had. or, the bus was available for this group, but the other group thought that they had it. Those are, those would be examples of structural kinds of things.
So demystifying means that the first root cause we look for is, is there a structural reason that these people are actually having, this conflict? The second thing in demystifying conflict is really just shifting the paradigm from avoiding it to as something. To, you’ll avoid it because it reveals failure to, um, doing it as a way to gain insight into what is, into what’s happening.
You know, again, looking for God-given opportunities for growth. So think about this. Go to Acts chapter six. Jimbo knows that I get a lot of gold out of Acts chapter six, but part of, if you think about it, they hear [00:16:00] about a conflict in the food distribution. And they don’t just kick it down the road.
They actually do something between verse one and two. They have an offsite or something. They have something where they talk about it and, and they come back with a solution. They do things like reassign jobs. They enlist new leaders, they train new leaders, they commission them. And what we see is that as a result of demystifying the conflict and actually saying, okay, we have a, we have a food distribution problem because we have two different kinds of people now that may have a little bit of racial tension in it that we can.
Solve it. And, and so we demystify by identifying the level, by actually thinking it’s an opportunity for growth. And sometimes we d well and, and we dis demystify it by thinking Kingdom advance and not just church advance. So how do we, how do we manage this with. Kingdom thinking. So, Jimbo, on [00:17:00] several of your podcasts you’ve mentioned the kingdom commitment that it takes.
In other words, it’s the overarching commitment that’s kind of an application of Matthew 6 33. To seat first the kingdom of God. But you have to bring that down into the, into the church and it’s the point of surrender. Like, in other words, we’ll say what we need to say, but at the end of the day, we’re gonna do good.
We’re gonna agree on, we’re gonna pre agree. That we’ll seek a kingdom, alternative. And here’s what happens. When you demystify. When you demystify, you go from helpless to hopeless. You go from feeling like you’ve lost something all the time to that you can actually gain something. You go from fear to being filled with spiritual optimism.
Think about this, if you, Jimbo, I’m sure that you and Ara Audra have had a fight at some point. and, and just like Tina and I have, and here’s the thing, we’ve endured some pretty tough conversations. So guess what? When the next conflict comes up, [00:18:00] we don’t freak out cuz we’ve demystified it. We know we can walk through this.
It’s not something, it’s not a mystery. It’s not like there are actual things you can do. You can show empathy, you can show respect, you can exhibit goodwill. And all of those things are, you know, brought out in the, in the deeper reading of the.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. One of the stories we tell in premarital counseling talking about this idea of over time, learning how to do that, have the tools and so that demystifies it. I think one of our first conflicts ever as a married couple. Was, and, I can say this out loud, Audrey gives me permission. this is one of the few stories where, she was the one that made a mistake.
it’s happened I think three times in almost 20 years of marriage and, early on something, whatever it was, just as we got married, Mundar department like. , she just like went on autopilot of just on her own, doing her own thing and, and really didn’t pour into invest in our relationship much for, a, a month or [00:19:00] so, and it was creating conflict within me and I, I didn’t know how to talk about it and I probably didn’t pick the right time or way to address it, and I just said, Hey, I don’t know.
I feel like I’m the only one really pursuing and fighting. This marriage right now. Cause I would try to have date nights and things like that. and she heard immediately because I said that what she heard was, we’re already getting divorced. Like it’s, it’s over the whole thing’s done, like, And so early on in our marriage conflict was really scary in, you know, having conflict.
Early on meant it was gonna ruin probably the next week of my life. Right? Like it was, it was gonna have long impacts and it’d be hard to do anything cuz we just didn’t have the tools to navigate the conversation well and come to a agreed upon solution and understanding each other’s perspectives and.
Through mentors and counselors and resources, [00:20:00] we have gained a lot of tools. And I can say now that you know, we’re almost 20 years into marriage and our conflicts are largely very peaceful now, because we’re not scared to hit things head on. And, you know, with that, when it comes to leading a church and replant on the characteristics of a replant that we’ve identified, One of the characteristics that came out of, the research that Dr.
Hu Steven Hudson did out of his PhD paper for Southern Seminary was a willingness to confront, and that he found that pastors that lead churches that can see a new day and be healthy again, have to be willing to. Conflict and confront people. And so we define willingness to confront as the replant pastor with a willingness to confront is able to willingly, not eagerly navigate conflict with directness, love, humility, patience and wisdom driven [00:21:00] by a love for the church and her members.
And it has to, and, and it has to be driven by that kingdom commitment, that idea of, I love this church too. to let this become a cancer and slowly come in and take over everything. so what would you say, just in the last couple of minutes here, what are the kind of high point things you would tell a, a pastor of a smaller church?
A replant, you know, dozen, couple dozen people are a part of the church and sometimes those people don’t have. The spiritual maturity to handle these conversations well, and he finds himself in the midst of some, some undercurrent of conflict happening in the church, and so he’s Google searched what to do and somehow come across this podcast episode.
If you could just give just a couple of points of advice, what would that be?
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah, I think I, I would just call it, map the conflict. And what that [00:22:00]means to me is you gotta, you gotta kind of have two ways of listening. Listen to the symptoms. of the conflict. So you can be empathetic. and what that means is that you can, reflect back to them that you know how they feel.
So they share with you about the peace lilies and, you share that we’re, we’re gonna move them. And I know that, that, will be a disappointment to you, and I know that, that you feel like perhaps we’re not honoring your, your deceased husband, but, you need to know that we do value him and, because of that, we’re gonna have a Peace Lilly garden out in the back or some, you know, or in the front.
What? Whatever you, in other words, you in, you do something to show that you’re, you’re managing, not managing, you’re expressing your empathy, but you’re also listening for the, for the root cause. And you say to the same lady, that lost her husband, but I know that you. , you want us to be able to serve other widows that come here and you know that if we have 10 more flowers, I [00:23:00] won’t be able to stand up here and preach.
And so we have to do something. So you, so you, you empathize, you, you map it out by empathizing and identifying, the root cause. And, and there’s two things that I think that are also part of mapping. One of the reasons that a replant ought to skill up in conflict management resolution is because conflict is coming.
It’s coming to a church near you, and if you, if you wait and you don’t skill up, what’ll end up happening? Your first conflict will be a big one.
JimBo Stewart: Mm-hmm.
Bob Bumgarner: On the other hand, if you skill up, you will spot it coming and you very well may be able to presolve the conflict. Somebody said in, in this idea of mapping conflict that we get the culture we create or the culture we allow. And so it’s one thing to have a kingdom concept. Like it sounds real fun to have a kingdom concept until the first day it gets violated [00:24:00] and you actually have to do something about it.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah.
Bob Bumgarner: but I can promise you this, if you don’t chicken out in that moment, , all your conflict, all of your confrontations post, that will be easier because people will know then that you’re actually creating something we’re trying to create.
The reason you map out conflicts is you’re trying to create space where it’s safe for people to actually express. How they feel about different, you know, different things. And just to quote Peter Drucker about this culture idea, we, with the reason we need to create a culture that’s safe is because culture will eat your evangelism strategy.
You’re replanting strategy, you’re reaching your community strategy for breakfast. If you, don’t figure out how to create the culture that you, that you want, and if you don’t, Map out this kingdom concept idea. you might actually put systems in place that can lead to conflict. Like in other words, one of the things that a conflict.[00:25:00]
a healthy church that deals with conflict in healthy ways. They actually kind of think through the systems they have and ask the question, where might conflict arise in this? And how, how can we, try to get a, and how can we try to get ahead of that? So those are a couple of things that I think are, are pretty crucial, when it comes to this whole conflict.
JimBo Stewart: That’s such a good word. I appreciate you taking the time to be with us and, representing First Coast churches. You wanna see more resources from, from Bob. Where can, where can they go, to see what you’re working on with First Coast Churches?
Bob Bumgarner: Yeah, thanks for asking. they can go to our website, which is first coast churches.com. And, if you go over to the. , tab that says how we help, there are all kinds of resources and it’s going to be continually, expanding, as far as that’s concerned. As a matter of fact, just from a conflict perspective, there’s a disk profile there that, churches can take, because part of part of what causes conflict sometimes is the way that we, way our [00:26:00] personalities are.
And so I would encourage you to spend some time with your volunteer team or your. Staff team, whichever you, whichever you happen to have, and figure out some personality types and you know, just pay attention to what seems to be cause hot buttons with those people. We try to put some tools on there that might be helpful.
JimBo Stewart: Excellent and recommend, pick up a copy of When Church Conflict Happens by Michael Hare and work through that as well as it’s gonna give you a lot deeper insight into this conversation and framework on how to, implement that in kind of that second half piece of it beyond the philosophy like Bob mentioned.
Thanks guys. Have a great day.
Bob Bumgarner: You bet. Take care.
bob bumgarner, church conflict, conflict, Conflict Resolution, Don't Pastor Alone, First Coast Churches, when church conflict happens